05/29/2012 09:34 am ET Updated Jul 29, 2012

What Does 'Furlough' Mean to a Fourth Grader?

In the state of Pennsylvania, like so many other states, public education budgets are being cut to the extremes by the state government. Some of our best young, talented teachers are being furloughed, and some of our extremely worthwhile programs are being cut from the curriculum. Programs like elementary foreign language, instrumental music, and even physical education have been struck from the curriculum in some districts because of budget cuts. I think that educators would agree that this is a terrible time for public education, but I got to thinking: What about the children? What lessons are they learning from this experience, if any? I decided to interview some of our fourth grade students and get their perspective on the plight of public education, politics and government.

The following describes their thoughts:

What does state government mean to you?

State government is run by the governor.

What does politics mean to you?

It's just another way to say the government.

What does fulough mean to you?

To be laid off
To be fired
To not have enough money to pay for the teachers

Why do you think we had to furlough teachers last year?

The government cut school money and we didn't have enough money to pay our teachers.
We couldn't pay the salaries of the new teachers.

What are your concerns for next year?

Losing Mr. Q (a favorite teacher in the school)
Losing the Principal
Eliminating gym, art, and music
Losing the Nurse

If you could send a message to our state government what would it be?

In order to go on in life, you have to get a good education and if you keep cutting school funds we won't get a good education.

We have a right to learn and if you keep cutting our funds we won't be able to learn.

It's not fair that you got to learn and you got your education. If you keep cutting our funds we may not get a good education like you did -- it's not fair.

It's not fair that our teachers are getting cut.

If you keep cutting our teachers, you are cutting our relationships with them.

You are basically doing this to get money and you may be happy getting the money. We are not happy about you cutting our education.

Interestingly, after my interviews with the 4th grade students, the teacher informed me that three of the students wanted to talk to me a bit more because they were upset. I invited them to my office and let them vent.

They started by asking me questions such as, "Why doesn't the governor care about us?" and "Isn't the government supposed to help make more jobs, not make people lose their jobs?" I was sad and frustrated because I could tell these students were genuinely upset and I had no good answers for them. One student explained to me that she thought that the government was supposed to help us make the most of our education. The students ended the conversation by telling me that they did not like our government because they were just selfish and didn't do anything to help kids. They wanted to know if the other government officials could fire our governor.

Although I had tried to remain neutral during both my interviews and my conversation with these three students, I decided to use this opportunity to explain the system of voting and elections in our great country. I shared with them how to research candidates and how to make your voice heard. I can only hope and pray that they will use this experience to make sure they one day use their vote as their voice.

So what do you think our children are learning from the education cuts?

Perhaps they have learned that there is no stability in education anymore.

Perhaps they have learned that their favorite teacher maybe here today, gone tomorrow.

Perhaps they have learned that their favorite class may not exist when their younger sibling comes through the school.

Perhaps they have learned that our government really is not fair, and you cannot count on your government to make the best decisions for you.

Perhaps they have learned that our government doesn't care about their education, and that money is more important to our government than a quality education.

As an educator and a patriotic citizen of our great country, I am very worried that our children are viewing our government as a greedy, self-serving organization. I am even more fearful that they may be right.